Why You Should Play Devil’s Advocate All The Time

What if the opposite of what you believe is true?

Roshan Daryanani
Feb 7 · 3 min read
Photo by Greg Jeanneau on Unsplash

Every number has a kind of opposite called a reciprocal.

The reciprocal of 2 is 1/2, because dividing by 2 has the same effect as multiplying by 1/2:

10 ÷ 2 = 5

10 x 1/2 = 5

Reciprocals also teach us that everything (including a number!) can be turned on its head, and that there is value in doing this (reciprocals make it easier to divide fractions by each other).

In her TED talk, Kelly McGonigal explains that research shows stress is only harmful if you believe that to be true. In a study, when people chose to see the physiological changes that occur under stress, such as their heart pounding, as a way in which their body was helping them rise to a challenge, their blood vessels actually relaxed. Their heart rate continued to be high but the state of their cardiovascular system began to resemble one that you see ‘in moments of joy and courage’.

It’s not just stress that can be reframed in a meaningful way. You can choose to challenge the mainstream narrative on almost any aspect of your life, from personal finance to relationships.

For instance, Paula Pant, writer and host of the Afford Anything podcast, offers an idea that can transform the way you manage your money. She suggests that’s instead of thinking of saving and investing as ‘delaying gratification’, you can begin to view the growth of your net worth as being deeply satisfying in itself. Sure, you can find happiness in that trip to Barcelona, but you can also choose to find it in watching your savings account balance rise.

Michael Thompson writes about the many ways in which having children actually helped him advance in the direction of his dreams, instead of being an obstacle to them. He explains that his kids have helped him to prioritize and approach his goals in a more sustainable and even enjoyable manner. They’ve become the source of his motivation instead of being an obstacle to what he’d like to achieve.

Even the time we spend on our phones each day— something many of us feel guilty about — can be viewed differently. Much as we malign our devices, they have been instrumental in getting us through the pandemic. Sure, texting someone or seeing them on camera isn’t the same as tearing off slices of fresh pizza with them while enjoying an equally cheesy movie. In the absence of this option, though, phones have allowed us to laugh with loved ones halfway across the globe. They’ve also given us free access to podcasts, videos, music and much else that has helped us take our minds of the stresses of this strange situation.

It’s completely all right to stop reading for a moment and give your phone a little hug. Go on, you know you want to.

It’s exciting to realise that you can reevaluate anything in your life if you use a different lens to examine it.

If you think that having access to a wide selection of options (whether this is foods, jobs or leisure activities) is always a good thing, think again — Barry Schwartz argues that too much choice can paralyse us and make us miserable.

Do you take it for granted that a quicker way to do something equates to a better way? Consider Herbert Lui’s thoughts on the value of ‘longcuts.

Being perpetually open to the possibility that you are completely wrong brings with it several benefits. It means you stop taking yourself too seriously, enriches your conversations with others (since you’re not trying to make them think the way you do) and can result in you learning something that enhances the quality of your life every single day.

Most importantly, it allows for the option of eating chocolate for dinner.

On second thought, some things are sacred. I’ll skip the savoury cocoa recipes and stick with enjoying it in my cake, thank you very much.

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